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Competitive Games, Plus Week in Review

Dear Elizabeth,
Should I expose my child to competitive games?
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Don’t introduce competitive games to children under the age of four.
  • Children of all ages can play cooperative games with no winner or loser.
  • Follow your child’s lead in what they express an interest in.
  • Help children build necessary skills to handle disappointment or loss.
Week in Review
Don’t forget about the great things that we learned this week:
Expert Advice
Kisha Williamson-Champion
Kisha Williamson-Champion
Early childhood education specialist
From a game of tag to musical chairs, children are exposed to competitive situations from an early age. But how competitive are kids by nature? How much competition should they be exposed to? The simple fact is that some kids are competitive and some kids aren’t. What you have to consider is a child’s temperament.

What Age Do Kids Understand Competition?
Cognitively, kids as early as their late 3’s and early 4’s can begin to grasp this concept of competition. Competition isn’t really recommended before this age because kids don’t understand it, nor can they gain anything from it.

Don’t Introduce Competition to Kids Under 4
Looking at the social and emotional aspects alone, introducing competition before they’re developmentally ready could be damaging to a child’s esteem, confidence and ability to take a risk later in life. Not to mention it forces kids to prematurely deal with “letting the team down” or “being the outcast.”

If the adult pushes the child to do something they are unwilling to do in a way that is forceful or not respectful--- it could corrode the bonds and sense of trust that has been built between the child and the adult. It also could cause the child to have to find other ways to vocalize their discomfort or inability to keep up.

Games for Children Ages 3 to 4
For children ages three to four, there are games that children can play in groups or individually, such as memory games. When playing memory or matching games, have a “group pot” that holds all the matching pairs found instead of each child “holding” on to their own set of matching cards.

There are many cooperative games that children and everyone can be involved in, such as:

  • Ring Around the Rosie
  • London Bridge Is Falling Down
  • Duck, Duck, Goose
  • Simon Says
  • Age-appropriate board games
Games for Children Over 4
One of the most important things adults can do is to follow the child’s lead. Pay attention to what the child is expressing an interest in doing, and pay attention to what your reactions are to winning and losing. Introducing games such as Red Light, Green Light or Musical Chairs could be a gradual start to organized concepts of someone being first, last, etc.

What is most important is that children are given every opportunity to feel that they are supported, that they can trust and are in a trusting environment and that the adults around them will assist them in building the necessary skills to handle disappointment, failure and loss.

Remember that whatever you gain in competition is at someone’s loss. We know that competition is a way of life. We may not like it and we can continue to do something about it. However, the best advantage for a child is to feel that they can do anything, be anything, and strive for anything without it being at the expense of someone else.

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Topic: Social & Emotional Development
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